Early lessons for a first-time entrepreneur
Just to be fair, I didn’t start the right way and took more than ten years to start seeing some fruits of labour. For ten years since 2005, I slogged to deliver graphic design work to clients in exchange for money, only to give myself a job.
Worst of all, that was all I did. I didn’t stop to think where that will bring me in future or if there was something I could achieve beyond just earning an income and putting food on the table.
Here are valuable lessons I wish to share with you if you are intending to take the entrepreneurial route:
Know your purpose inside out
When my kid was born in 2013, everything changed…for the worse. Suddenly, client work has to be put on hold so that I could feed my baby every 2 hours. I used to have a choice on when to get up to brush my teeth, have a cup of coffee, open up my laptop and immerse myself in client work. That choice is gone.
That point in time was hard to get by because I wasn’t used to not being busy with designing something for someone else. On hindsight, the moments when I had to feed my baby gave me the chance to leave the busyness of client work to think deeper on how to improve my life.
I started to ask myself “why do I want to make so much effort to find clients, work on their designs but not get paid for my absence? Isn’t it easier to have a job”.
Asking myself those questions every day brings me the same answers, and that kept me going:
Personal reason: Always challenging myself to become a stronger and better person so that I can help others and make an impact.
Lifestyle reason: I want to work and play whenever I want to as much as possible. I know I have a burning desire for freedom.
Business reason: I want to build an asset that can be sold like a product in a box without me running it.
Family reason: I want to be there for my family without the need to ask for permission and without holding up any clients.
Be clear with why you want to start a business in the first place. Don’t start a business because you see others having lots of freedom, look cool, and earn millions. Yes, I know the sky is the limit and I’m sure you can do it, but we all live and breathe in unique circumstances.
I’d suggest anyone who wishes to start your very first business to take enough time and find a quiet spot as much as you can to figure out your reasons for doing so before taking the leap. Questioning your purpose every day will eventually lead to an answer that’s meant for you.
Surround yourself with those who get it
It’s a lonely venture. When people around me saw me “jobless” or working from home, they always think I was bumming around and wasting my life away. They’d say they are worried for me and want the best for me, hence they tend to give me their golden advise to get a proper job, earn a stable income, and learn to retire with enough cash to get by when I’m old.
When I told them my plans, they didn’t get what I was trying to do. They think I was being stubborn and egoistic to only want to work for myself. Nobody gets it. Somehow there will be people around you who simply don’t get you, even your closest family members.
Yes, they are just showing their concern, and they genuinely care. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a job too. But never rely on their approval and support because those may not come in your lifetime. Never try to explain what you are doing too because they will only get it if you’ve shown them you can reach your goals. Hence the only way is to go do it.
As the saying goes, “it’s like a chicken talking to a duck”. You know how laboured such process is, both don’t understand each other. Don’t get mentally and emotionally bogged down by such conversations. Once you figured out your purpose inside out as mentioned above, it’s up to you to commit to taking action for yourself.
What did I do? I started by joining communities that are created for people who have similar goals as I do, such as 7-Day Startup, BHive, Academy of Cubicle Crashers, Boss-Moms. I’m not a social butterfly, hence I took a while to introduce myself and share my thoughts.
I’m not super active in all of them, but the greatest thing of being in such groups is everyone speaks the same “language”! Nobody is telling me to go get a job for a stable income, people there are challenging me to get my business moving, make an impact and pursue my dreams. These are people I want to mix around with.
If this is you, start by searching the web with keywords that are related to your business goals. 7-Day Startup group was the very first community I joined and I got to know about it when I searched with the terms “productized design service”. Keep searching by using different terms be it via Google or Facebook. Once you found a group, start having conversations and commit to building long-term relationships with them.
Start a community first
This is not about setting up a Facebook Group per se. This is also not about creating an audience with the aim to sell them something, though you may do so eventually so long it’s legitimately something useful for them. It’s more about genuinely creating a place for like-minded people to hang out, support one another to overcome similar challenges before coming up with something to sell.
If you’ve heard of people launching businesses only to sell to crickets, starting a community is one of the best ways to solve this problem. With these people in the same place, conversations will take place and that’s where you get the opportunity to learn about their struggles and wants. When it’s time to sell, there are people ready to buy.
You don’t have to create a group of 100,000 people right out of the gate. What you need is to allow just a small group of people to share what they feel deeply about a problem they are facing. You also don’t have to start a whole new group. In fact, you can start a micro-community within a group itself even with just 5 people.
Houzz was born not because the founders were psychic to know it will succeed. Co-founder, Adi Tatarko didn’t expect herself to be an entrepreneur either. They were remodelling their home only to find the process frustrating. They didn’t just start a business right away, instead, they asked other parents at their kids’ school about their own experiences before starting it as a side project.
I’m sure we all experience all kinds of issues in a day. My friend of more than 20 years knows a lot about motorbike and car repairs. He realised a lot of his friends don’t know what mechanics do behind the scene when they send their cars for regular checkups. Unsure what they are paying for, many of them started researching for ways to service their vehicles on their own, including asking my friend for help.
That’s when he started his small community of people who are regularly looking for mechanic-related help. That’s when he created a Facebook Group called “Mechanic Bar” for all to “hang-out”, post questions and answers. Now he has a side project providing certifications to those who wish to learn more.
Drip founder, Rob Walling did not build his email marketing software first. Instead, he made sure he is in touch with people interested in his idea first by asking for their permission to give him their email address. At that point, there wasn’t anything for people to use yet, it was purely an idea.
Along the way, he was also able to allow his community to test out small bits of his software. That got them involved and interested, and also allows him to know which area to improve before taking too much time and money to build something nobody cares about.
The point of this is to make sure you are creating something that people are willing to pay you for and to have a point of contact to let them know when it’s for sale.
Go do it
Now the fun part! Do all three steps:
- Know your purpose inside out
- Surround yourself with those who get it
- Start a community first
Next, commit to them on a regular basis and stay consistent.
You can do this!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this story 🙂